The Air Force Reserve era: 1974-present
|A tribute to a
My friend always ended our conversations with her
trademark reminder spoken in that feisty, raspy voice.
"Shake it easy, kiddo," was Betty O'Connell's tongue-in-
cheek parting of ways with me until we talked with each
She passed away May 25, 2006.
Betty touched so many people's lives with her inimitable
charm and style. I'm one of those lucky people. She wasn't
just my friend; she was my childhood pen pal.
In 1976, I wrote the first of many letters from my boyhood
home in Concord, to the Westover public affairs office.
My letter was among scores I sent to Air Force bases
across the United States. Betty was Westover’s public
affairs officer from 1973 to 1981. She wrote back to me in
the most consistent, kind, and personable style possible.
This was long before computers with their chirping in-boxes
containing e-mails and digital photos. Betty's kindness filled
my mailbox with stacks of manila-colored packages chock
full of Westover information. This made getting mail tangible
and exciting for a 13-year-old boy so curious about the Air
Force and its aircraft.
She signed "Betty O'" on the many personal letters she sent
me. I have held onto them ever since.
Our second phase of friendship began when I moved to
Chicopee with my family shortly after the 9/11 attacks, to
work at Westover Air Reserve Base. I thought about looking
up that special friend, the base public affairs officer, and
searched the listings of a Chicopee phone book.
Sure enough, Betty O'Connell still lived in Chicopee.
My phone call helped bring together two pen pals who had
never met each other. Twenty-five years later, Betty and I
finally had met, face-to-face, over lunch and many shared
memories, at a Friendly's.
Betty helped lead me to this public affairs field that I work in
today. She always wanted to inform me about the
importance of Westover. Public affairs wasn't the only area
she worked. She was a post exchange employee in the
base's fledgling days in the early 1940s. In the 1960s, she
worked for the Strategic Air Command's famous Eighth Air
In the past 4 and 1/2 years of my time at the base, Betty
always made sure to stop and visit me - the very same
office, from where, more than 25 years ago, she so
effectively informed a young man about Westover.
Those visits, those letters, and the friendship are an
impression that will last my lifetime. As luck would have it
following a quarter-century time span, I got to meet and
count this special woman as one of my dearest friends.
Thank God we were friends. And thank God I recently visited
her at Parkview Hospital in Springfield, where I could heed
her patented reminder one last time as she peered up at
me from her bed with a smile and twinkle in her eyes.
"Shake it easy, kiddo," she said.
You too, Betty O.'
You spoke and wrote the language of friendship like no one
Although the Air Force Reserve (AFRES) had been on the base since its first unit was assigned in 1966, it wasn't until May 19, 1974
that the keys were turned over to AFRES from SAC. Westover became an AFRES-owned base on that day - and the first of its kind in the
Despite a drastic curtailment in flying operations and general Air Force activity, Westover retained its name as Westover AFB.
Betty O'Connell, my good friend and public affairs officer at the base during the 1970s, found herself explaining to people that Westover
was not altogether closed, rather partially closed.
Because the base had made front page news following the Department of Defense announcement about its realignment, many people
believed the doors were shut. I scanned in the DoD press release that appeared April 17, 1973. It too said that Westover was to be
GRAY AND WHIITE GARGANTUAN - A C-5A Galaxy transits Westover, circa late '70s. TSgt Steve Hoadley, formerly with the 58th Aerial Port Squadron, kindly gave this print shortly before
he retired from Westover. The aircraft is taxiing in from what appears to be the 23 end of the main runway. Note the Holyoke Mountains in the background. This shot also shows the C-5's
original gray and white paint scheme, which I still think looks really sharp. It is this paint scheme that I recall so fondly in the 1970s when I saw this airplane's debut in my life as it
lumbered over my house into Hanscom Field near Bedford, Mass. The black nose paint accentuates the sheer size of the aircraft.
by Andrew Biscoe
THUNDER FROM GERMANY-- A Germany F-4E Phantom II roars off the runway
from Westover in the spring of 2002. Note the old control tower in the foreground.
The F-4 had transited Westover on its way to Holloman AFB, N.M. The control
tower mets its demise in July 2002, when earthmovers with cables attached pulled
the 1962-built structure to the ground.
photo by Andrew Biscoe
|Click the thumbnails to read the
official DoD announcement
made in April 1973 informing of
the changeover from SAC to
C-130B #60-299 prepares to take off from Runway 15, circa 1977.
photo by Tom Hildreth
This superb photo, taken by Tom Hildreth, shows a C-123K Provider parked on the flight line while another
lands on Runway 23. The 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron flew the Providers at the base from 1973 to 1982.
WALL OF WHITE - Brig. Gen. Billy Knowles, left, 439th Tactical Airlift Wing commander, and Col. J.
Frank Moore, 439th Combat Support Group commander, stand beside a wall of snow near the
flight line. New England's fiercest-ever Nor'easter, dubbed the "Blizzard of '78," blasted the region
with record snowfall and blowing winds on Feb. 6, 1978.
-- photo courtesy of Betty O'Connell
|The C-124C Globemaster II flew out of
Westover serving in many different roles.
The C-124s were assigned to the 905th
Military Airlift Group, which moved to the
base in 1966 from Bradley Field, Conn. The
unit relocated to Westover because there
wasn't enough room at the airport for the
huge transports. Eight C-124s were
assigned to the 905th MAG. The
Globemaster II also flew at Westover when
the Military Air Transport Service (MATS)
operated the base. The C-124 was retired
from the Air Force by the mid-1970s as the
C-5 Galaxy took over the job of outsized
(Photo provided by David Henry, who was
stationed at the base during this time)
This picture shows three C-123K Providers and a C-130 Hercules on
the flight line, circa 1974. The 123s' tails still show the "HF" letters of
their former assignment which was at Hanscom Field, Mass. until
September 1973, when the aircraft relocated to Westover. (
photo taken by David Henry)